Mark from Esteban Carreras Cigars talks about their newest release, the Chupacabra Hellcat. It’s a formidable smoke but delivers smoothly and is by no means overpowering. Chupacabra has been their bestselling line for a while. The original Chupacabra Habano Oscuro is 100% Nicaraguan as the tobacco is from all three of the primary growing valleys in Nicaragua and has been a rock star from the time it came out. Fuente’s Casa Cuba trickles out with Divine Inspiration. The Casa Cuba line was the last cigar that Don Carlos blended himself.
Listen to the podcast here:
Cigar Cafe Radio | Mark with Esteban Carreras Cigars | Chupacabra Hellcat
I’m Lane and I’m hanging out at Cigars & More with Harris. We’ve got Sean and a special guest. We’ve got Mark from Esteban Carreras Cigars and we’re smoking a couple of his sticks and just hanging out. What’s up guys?
Thanks for having me.
I’m glad to be back. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. Mark, what’s going on? What’s new in the cigar world? What are you guys smoking? What’s going on?
That sounds like a formidable smoke. Anytime you name something Chupacabra, it automatically denotes something with somebody.
The saying for that particular cigar for us is, “It’ll steal your heart, but you’ll never feel the bite on the Chupacabra.” They’re very smooth cigars. They’re by no means overpowering. Our philosophy is more along the lines of flavor. When you’re smoking a cigar, we want you to enjoy the tobacco. Once you get cigars that are a little bit too strong, it’s like eating chicken wings that have too much heat on them where you don’t get the taste the chicken anymore. You’re just overwhelming yourself with the heat. It may have that name to it, but the funny part about the name of the cigar is the Chupacabra mythical creature and now we have the Chupacabra Hellcat.
You’ve got a double weird situation with that particular cigar. There were a couple of reasons we did that name. A lot of times a customer will smoke a cigar and then come back to the retailer and say, “You recommended a cigar the other day. It was great. It had a blue label on it.”Then you go in the humidor and there are 50 cigars with blue labels. A guy walks in and he says, “You gave me a cigar the other day. I really liked it. It was ChupaLumpa or Oompa Loompa,” you’ll automatically know it’s Chupacabra because nobody can pronounce it.
I can tell you right now if you make a Oompa Loompa cigar, I am in. They’d better be orange though.
Orange or with some brown stripes on it or something.
There you go.
The last time I was in, when I came in to see you guys, I didn’t see the cigars. Is this a new line for you, Harris? Have you had it for awhile?
Yeah. Esteban Carreras is a brand we’ve had for a few years. Chupacabra has been our bestselling line for a while.
The Chupacabra line has just extended our profile as far as the business goes. We’ve been around twelve years. We’re based in California and the gentleman that owns the company is a retailer as well as a manufacturer. We own our own factory and make all our cigars in-house now, which is a little unusual for a company that’s somewhat considered boutique. We are very committed to the retail. We’d like to say we have the DNA of a retailer because our company is owned by a retailer. We don’t put a lot of money into marketing on our cigars. We just sell really good cigars with great tobacco. That’s where all the money goes.
They’re making quite a few cigars here now. What’s it up to?
I’d say we’re probably under five million as far as production. We’ve got 24 pairs in our factory. When we get to 30, we’re pretty much done. I’ll give you a ballpark there, Perdomo’s got 300 pairs when it comes to rollers. The gentleman that is our master blender and factory manager, Gonzalo Fuente, at one time he was overall tobacco in Cuba then he was over six Cohiba factories. His mindset is once you get past the 30-pair mark, you’re starting to run the risk of some inconsistency in your tobacco. It’s not going to be able to buy enough all the time and keep that running. At one time I asked Craig, “Why don’t we advertise Chupacabra?” This was several years ago when it first came out, and the response was, “We’re basically selling everything we roll. If I advertise it I’m going into backwards.”
We just maintain what we have and take care of the customers that we have. When the end user finds us, they’ve found a really good product.
Give me the skinny on the original Chupacabra and then the new one. What’s the difference between the two?
The original Chupacabra Habano Oscuro, it’s 100% Nicaraguan. It has tobacco from all three of the primary growing valleys in Nicaragua. It’s just been a rock star from the time it came out. We went into an almost immediate backorder situation when it first came out because everybody that knew us and those that didn’t start finding us and it’s become about 45% of our business. It’s been out four years, continues to get high ratings. It was the number two out of the Top 10 Boutiques this year in Cigar & Spirits. It just keeps chugging along.
The new Chupacabra Hellcat which Harris is smoking and I really don’t want to say anything about it until he has the chance to get through it, but we’re going to go there. It’s San Andreas over Nicaragua. It is a delicious cigar. I was telling the guys here as I handed them out to my customers making my sales calls, “You watch the customer. He lights it up and he’s sitting in the chair or sofa and he just starts sliding down in his chair. The next thing you know, he’s off in another world.” It’s just that good. It’s a really good cigar.
I totally get what you’re saying about not feeling the bite. It started out with no discernible spice or anything like that. There’s this cool nuttiness that you don’t always find in the Nicaraguan Puro profile. It’s almost like there’s a toasted pine nut or something like that and it’s really pleasant and then it’s inched into some a softer milk chocolate. He’s right. It is medium-bodied, but it’s really pleasant.
Have you gone into Connecticut Shade yet? Have you made any cigars with it? I had been on a Connecticut kick.
We make an Ecuadorian Connecticut. It’s our twelve-year Connecticut. A Connecticut white label. It’s a nice mild to medium cigar, real creamy. It actually tastes like a cigar unlike something Connecticuts that are a little airy or a little bitter. We throw a little extra in there to give it that little bit more flavor.
I’ve noticed some companies lately doing that with their Connecticuts. They’ve all been a little bit airy or a little too mild. I had the Perdomo Barrel-Aged Connecticut and it was awesome. The best cigar I’ve smoked over the weekend. I was pretty happy about it. I had some draw issues with a couple of cigars and I just threw them into the fire. It sucks throwing away $12 cigars but it is what it is. I know every once in awhile it happens. That was a good one and off the radar for me. You guys know I don’t smoke many Perdomo and it was very good.
That’s been a big trend lately with the more medium body Connecticut wrapper cigars, the Camacho Connecticut, Perdomo Barrel-Aged.
To this day, the Connecticut cigar is still the number one selling wrapper in cigars, which is unusual but, yes.
They are very popular for us. Connecticut in general is our bestseller in whatever brand.
It just appeals to a wider range of people.
After you’ve been smoking cigar for awhile and then you want to up the ante a little bit with your palate, you keep moving up the chain a little bit.
My day starts with Connecticut, I progress throughout the day, and then a lot of times I’ll finish the day with a Connecticut because I don’t want to blow my palate out.
How many cigars do you smoke a day on average?
At least three. When you’re visiting the shops, it’s like breaking bread when you go to see the owner. You’re giving them cigar and you’re lighting up with him.
What are your primary territories? Are you a regional brand? I’m in Chicago.
We have a presence in Chicago. You just haven’t found us yet. We’re always looking for a good store in Chicago. I’d have to get my computer out to find out exactly where. Our rep in Chicago, his name is Tom Losch. He’s been there for awhile. He’s doing a very good job for us. He’s doing great stuff in that part of the world.
What area do you cover?
I have Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North and South Carolina. Then I hop on an airplane and go to New England and I take care of Mass, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. Then when I had a little spare time, I fly over to see the guys in Dallas Fort Worth and hang out over there for a minute. We have a rep in the mid Atlantic area. With the New England states for a smaller company like ours, it’s a little risky to go up there in the dead of winter and it’s hard to justify having a full time rep that’s got four months out of the year where he’s not going to do much business. That’s why I hop up there and take care of those four states. I can hit that in a week, see everybody that needs to be seen, back on a plane by Friday coming home. Through the winter months, I just call.
Did you have presence at IPCPR? Were you there with a booth?
Absolutely. We’ve had a booth ever since we’ve been in existence. We’re there every year. We actually make some cigars for a couple of other companies as well that join us in our booth from time to time, Bloodline Cigars, also Kinky Friedman Cigars out of Texas, which is a regional type cigar, and a couple others that we make for some other companies out there.
Are you concerned with legislation? I know that people have started to get fines already. How’s it going? What’s going on with it?
Unfortunately, there’s going to be a price increase on all the cigars because we’re going to have to pay for this FDA fee that they’re charging us at the ports now. It’s still up in the air as to what the costs are going to be to bring a new cigar into production, or if it’s going to be even possible.
I thought that they were going to sue and put an injunction on this so it stops for a while, and then no one’s done that.
Didn’t the final rule go before the white house this week? I thought I saw an email out of CRA that basically indicated that there was another stopgap to stop it, that had gone to the White House. I don’t know if it’s been dealt with yet.
One of the things I was reading very recently and I almost don’t read about that stuff because it gets a little depressing, but there’s talk that they’re going to try and squeeze some things into the next omnibus bill that’s pushed through that may eliminate some of this for us.
Would that be December timeframe?
It’s going to be right after the election. They’re going to try and stuff some of that in there. Hopefully that will bring it back to the original intent of what congress was trying to get through versus what the FDA took upon themselves. Right now they have no budget. Whatever money they’re collecting from these fees and if they are out trying to find people, and I’ve heard mixed reviews on some of that, too. I’ve heard they visit several shops, but they were going primarily to the liquor stores and head shop type places. They haven’t really gone to the lounges is yet.
We had a visit from an FDA person. All they did was they came in, looked around, and they said they’re not allowed to tell us if we have any violations. They just sat there looking for things that are out of place. They’re not really doing much. They said we were okay, but I would expect that to get more intense each time they show up.
Weren’t there number of stores in Georgia that recently busted for selling to minors?
Were those liquor store type?
That was more of a liquor store type situation where they were probably catching them as much for cigarettes as they were for cigars.
They’re looking at everything. The language is still in the house bill for now on the Act Appropriations Bill. That has a long way to go, but they’re pursuing that. They’re also still pursuing lawsuits, and the hope is that one of those works.
There’s so much gray still to it. They’re talking about the testing part of this process, yet they still don’t have the facilities in place. The manuals have not been created that I’m aware of, and you know they’re going to need probably 1,500 pages long when they’ve come up with a test for it. One of the other things is we’re hoping that because of that, they may push this back a little bit more. We’re not being able to bring in new product and the only reason we can’t bring it in is because there’s no way to have it tested now. I know I’m in the business but there’s a whole lot wrong with what they’re trying to do right now. I can’t see the difference in the cigar that was made 100 years ago versus a cigar that was made six months ago. They’re 100% tobacco, hand-rolled, and we get to smoke them and enjoy them.
What are you going to test that of? Here’s my problem. After you test the first hundred cigars and figure out that there’s nothing else in it, are you going to test another Davidoff to figure out that there’s nothing else in it?
If they’re going to force us to let them know what we’re putting in the cigar and we say it’s 100% Nicaraguan, are we going to be required to break down what each one of the leaves are? You’re starting to talk about proprietary blends that we don’t want out on the market. It’s like the Chupacabra, I’m going to tell you the wrapper leaf, but I’m going to tell you the total construction of the cigar. I’m going to let you know that it’s a Puro, that it’s 100% Nicaraguan and it has tobacco from all three valleys, but I’m not going to tell you what kind of filler is in there I don’t want to tell you what the binder leaf is necessarily. I don’t want you to have an idea exactly what that blend is.
It’s like having MSDS Sheet for a chemical on a job site. You know what’s in it but you don’t know exactly what’s in it. You know there’s something that will cause you harm, but you’re not going to be able to figure out how to reverse engineer the problem.
The other thing on the lawsuit side that we’re hoping for is there’s never been anything like this that’s going to hurt business the way this is going to hurt the business going back all the way to 2007 from now, nine to ten years. If they were going to stop this and implement it, it should have been done in ’07. They should have never allowed all the cigars that had been allowed to get in market since the ’07 date to August of this year. If it does fall down to that, we’re thinking August 8 will become the predicate date instead of the February 7 day.
That seems very reasonable. A lot of manufacturers thought that was the case, too, because you saw quite a few new cigars this year coming out, trying to beat that August day.
What else are you excited about? What else on the market other than your own? Some people give us an answer and some people say, “Only our own.”
I probably have 400 cigars at my house right now that I’ve accumulated through trades between reps.
I have been accused of being a loyal company man, but I like our cigars and that’s what I smoke. Now that’s not to say that I haven’t smoked other cigars that I do like. I had an Illusione that I really enjoyed. I’ve had some of the other brands that are out there that are great like you were talking about the Perdomo Connecticut. That’s a good cigar. I’ve had other cigars that I’m constantly finding myself coming back to. Maybe it’s out of convenience because that’s what we have, but I think it’s just taste.
Can I tell you something? I can do you a really big favor. If you have 400 cigars and you’re having a real tough time with it, I’ll give you my address. You can send them right on by. I’ll be happy to test them out for you. I’ll tell you all about them.
It has to be associated with a purchase.
It’s a gift to my father who enjoys cigars as well. I’ll eventually get to a quiet a few of this as time goes by. Being in the business and smoking the quantity of cigars that I smoke, you don’t find as much time to really enjoy the cigar. You’re smoking a cigar, but you’re bouncing from place to place where your customer, the consumer, has the opportunity to sit down in a lounge, uninterrupted, kick back and enjoy a cigar, and experience it and taste the different flavors. I’m lighting the cigar, I’m smoking it, and we’re talking business, out the door I go in my car to the next stop.
That’s probably the question I get asked the most in the store, “Do you actually smoke cigars?” That’s normally my response. Yes, but more so when I can sit down and enjoy it versus when I’m trying to run around in the store.
You have for the second time presented a chance for me to go off on a tangent that I really like to go off on?
You were talking about a gift to your father. About once a year my parents, we split a condo and go to the beach. That happened this past weekend or almost two weeks ago. While we were laying there in our beach loungers and everything and I’ve smoked a couple of cigars already, my dad starts to talk to me and says, “What are the health ramifications of smoking cigars at the rate that I consume them?” I said, “First of all, I don’t think I smoked nearly as many as you think I do,” I said, “It’s funny that that you asked that because the FDA who is currently in the midst of trying to tell us how bad for us premium cigars are just released their own studies saying that unless you’re smoking four or five a day, that there is virtually zero cancer risk.
Obviously, they think all tobacco is bad, period. If it’s tobacco it’s bad.
Dad was just scratching his head and watching me smoke cigars and I took a couple with me for our four-day beach trip and I looked in my little travel case and say, “I’ve got a little nubby PDR Connecticut. This is going to happen.” I head out to the beach the next morning. We’re all out there. I’m lighting my first cigar the day and I said, “Dad, I’ve got a pretty mild one in here.” In the meantime I’m looking up reviews on it just to make sure that that’s not a sleeper. I looked at the reviews. It’s a little bit of black pepper, but nothing scary in there. We’re not going to hurt my dad. I was able to light the cigar up and smoke a cigar with my dad. My dad probably smoked three cigars in his life. Two of them are for babies and one of them, he was in Canada on a business trip and there was a Cuban there and he could have it, and he’s like, “I don’t know.” I had smoked a cigar and have Appleton and Coke on the beach with my dad and it was fantastic.
That’s a beautiful thing. I have been enjoying cigars with my dad for years. It’s great.
Me too. My father is a cigar smoker as Harris will tell you.
My dad is too so I get to enjoy. If I go over to the house or my brother-in-law comes over, my brother-in-law’s a big fan too. The ladies know that we’re going out to have a nice cigar, so it’s pretty cool. I agree.
Sean’s dad is an Ashton man.
No. He’s a Montesino man. He loves Arturo Fuente Montesino. It’s probably a 35-year old cigar, maybe more.
They’ve been around a long time.
I was saying about the health issue side. Years ago, there was a study done. I don’t remember the exact specifics, but as long as you’re not inhaling the cigars, you can have two or three a day on a fairly regular basis and take a physical for a life insurance policy and pass as a nonsmoker.
I did that actually. I forgot that I had one coming up. I had smoked a ton of cigars and it didn’t show up at all.
As long as you’re not inhaling the cigar. I know there are guys out there that do and I personally too, that’s why I would turn to shades of green things
You’ve seen people that inhale the cigars?
Did you see that too, Harris?
Yeah, occasionally. They have a soft green about it. He does a little bit.
That’s not happening here. I would be as green and I’d probably barf my guts up, I would imagine. Harris what have you gotten in new now since the last time? Anything good that you’ve gotten in the shelf that’s rolling out?
I’m trying to think. We’re starting to have things trickle in and we’ve got a few rare things in unexpectedly from Fuente the Casa Cuba Divine Inspiration. It’s a rare size of the Casa Cuba line that was the last cigar that Don Carlos blended himself.
They’re in the $12 range.
That’s not bad at all.
Then we got in the OpusX Oro Oscuro with a big yellow box. We’ve got one other box of another rare cigar.
Is that the one that has the three cigars or something like that?
Yeah. There’s three. It’s $5 each. I have the Eye of the Shark. All these came in one day and most of them sold out yesterday the same day.
We won’t get any more of those.
I have a cousin who got a box of the Eye of the Shark. We could sell 50 of them tomorrow if we could get on camp.
What about the new sticks from the show? What about the one that I’m on?
You know which one.
I want that new anniversary series from La Palina.
I don’t know when those are starting to ship.
I want one.
That will be a good one. That’s the one that has the same tobacco and wrapper as the Padron 50 years.
That’s what they say and that it’s better than the Padron. For $10, it doesn’t have to be.
It’s the middle of college football season. What’s going on? I know that we’ve got in the Big Ten. We’ve got a hell of a game with Michigan state and Michigan. it’s going to be a even after the ass kicking that Michigan state got from a Wisconsin, Michigan state is going to give him some pushback. I think Michigan is still mad after the last year.
I don’t know yet. I’m still not convinced. I don’t know. They’ve got to play Iowa. They’ve got to play Michigan and Michigan State. They’ve got to play Ohio State. I want to see what they’re made up. I still am not convinced that they’re a playoff team.
What do you think Michigan does with Les Miles on the coaching carousel right now?
I thought for sure because of Brian Kelly’s being such a schmuck the last month. I do like him. He’s Irish catholic, I’m Irish catholic. I get it. But he throws his players under the bus. You’re not supposed to do that to twenty-year-old kids. You’re supposed to say that you suck as a coach and take the blame. You’re supposed to say, “I’m a man and I’m 40.”
He doesn’t do that. DeShone Kizer had a great game and he threw him under the bus too. I thought, “This might not be a bad time to let him go and get Les Miles.
Only if they hire.
Les Miles has said that he does not foresee a future where he isn’t coaching.
He’s a little bit in trouble.
He wants to go somewhere and I don’t think it necessarily feels like he has to go and be a head coach somewhere as long as he gets to keep doing the day-to-day. How old is he?
He is older than I thought.
I don’t know if Les Miles and Brian Kelly can coexist. I don’t think that that’s possible.
They will kill each other.
You’d have to be to the point where you’re going to let him go and bring Les Miles and he’s a hell of a recruiter. He’s got a hell of a track record. Maybe his time at LSU had passed.
Let’s be realistic. He average over the course of his tenure at LSU eleven and three season every year. It does not make sense that especially if the game where they chose to let him go, that was not a devastating lost. It was an inconvenient loss. It reflects on the whole clock management problems that he’s had, that his critics kept talking about. I know plenty of LSU fans were tired of him. He was 100 and 113 and 132 or something like that. That’s real close. That may be the actual number. He just put up some fantastic numbers over the years at LSU. I don’t know if it makes a lot of sense for them to have dumped him when they did.
They were going to dump him before this. I know that there were some boosters that were going to buy out his contract before the year started.
There was a crowd funding campaign to help LSU pay his buyout.
Last year, they weren’t ready to let him go and Bobby Jindal stepped in and saved his job.
Didn’t they have a deadline at the end of season two if that helps one in the ballgame?
I’m getting a little tired of the Brian Kelly train. As a Notre Dame fan, he’s done a tremendous amount of recruiting. The guy has done a great job recruiting. It hasn’t been that way since probably the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. I feel like their kids are there. We’ll see what happens. I’m looking forward to watching some football and playing some football. We’ve got a six in one team with us and a six in one team with Orland, that’s going to be a war. We both lost to the same team and it’s going to be a war. It’s one of our biggest games in five years.
We’re going to the Bama game. It is homecoming. We’re playing Kentucky. It’s my wife’s birthday, so we’re going to go and tailgate. We’ve got tickets to the game.
How’s the new job?
It’s busy. It’s good. I get emails at 9:30 and it’s like, ” I have to turn my brain back on.” It’s been good. One of my guys is at a Microsoft Conference and I’ve got to go to a security conference in Nashville. Now, I like the team. I liked the other managers I’m hiring right now. It’s good.
What else is everyone doing?
I got a text from my Midwest guy in Chicago. I asked him where you could buy our cigars, TESA Cigars which is west of The Loop on Lake Street.
That’s just one place that would hopefully be close to you.
I’m in the South Suburbs, but I mean I’m in Chicago quite a bit.
Not just around there. We’re not just in that one store, but that’s the one he sent me back.
I appreciate that. I pulled up their website. That’s the beauty of the internet. I know exactly where it is.
It’s nice having you on. I’m glad you came on. It’s nice to have people in the cigar industry talking to us so we know a little bit more about it. It’s a pretty cool.
I appreciate you guys for having me. It’s been awesome.
What else is new? How are the kids, Harris? Driving you nuts?
They’re good. They’re starting to sleep a little more and all that. It had been a lot of fun lately.
You’re going to have a four or five more, be like a Dober?
No. I’ve made my doctor’s appointment to make that not possible.
Getting the bone cracked?
I should make mine at the same time so we can high five when it’s over.
Have a great weekend.
You as well. Thank you.
- Esteban Carreras Cigars
- Bronze Cross
- Chupacabra Hellcat
- Cigar & Spirits
- Bloodline Cigars
- Kinky Friedman Cigars
- Casa Cuba Divine Inspiration
- OpusX Oro Oscuro
- Eye of the Shark
- TESA Cigars